Older Amer­i­cans are hap­pi­est in Hawaii

The Denver Post - - LIFE & CULTURE - By Tara Bahram­pour

De­spite the creaky knees and read­ing glasses that come with old age, Amer­i­cans tend to get hap­pier as they grow older, a new anal­y­sis finds.

Based on phone sur­veys that are part of the an­nual GallupHealth­ways State of Amer­i­can Well-Be­ing se­ries, the re­port found peo­ple 55 and older do­ing bet­ter than younger peo­ple across five pa­ram­e­ters. When it comes to fi­nan­cial well-be­ing, older peo­ple thrive at a rate of 53 per­cent, com­pared to 33 per­cent for younger peo­ple; they also score higher on mea­sures of com­mu­nity, pur­pose, so­cial, and health.

In a sur­vey that reached 115,000 older Amer­i­cans over 15 months, they ex­pressed higher sat­is­fac­tion with their stan­dard of liv­ing, said they worry less about money, and said they have enough money to do what they want. They also re­ported higher rates of hav­ing health in­sur­ance and a per­sonal doc­tor, and lower in­ci­dence of obe­sity and de­pres­sion than younger Amer­i­cans.

But much can de­pend on where one lives. The states with the high­est lev­els of well-be­ing among older peo­ple are Hawaii, Arizona, New Hampshire, North Dakota and Colorado; the low­est lev­els are in West Virginia, Kentucky, Ok­la­homa, Ohio, and In­di­ana.

“The 55 and over crowd in those top states … re­port al­ways mak­ing time for reg­u­lar trips and va­ca­tions with fam­ily and friends, reach­ing their goals in the last 12 months, us­ing their strengths and ap­ti­tudes as a hu­man be­ing, in other words, do­ing things that are a nat­u­ral right fit for them,” said Dan Wit­ters, re­search di­rec­tor for the GallupHealth­ways Well-Be­ing In­dex.

Par­tic­u­larly strik­ing is the range of dif­fer­ent out­comes in ge­o­graphic ar­eas. There is one clus­ter of states with high rank­ings in a sec­tion of the Mid­west, but for the most part, the hig­h­and low-rank­ing states are evenly dis­trib­uted. New Hampshire ranks third while its sim­i­larly­sized neigh­bor, Vermont, ranks 45th. Arizona is sec­ond, while New Mex­ico is 28th.

Part of this may be ex­plained by de­mog­ra­phy. Na­tive Amer­i­can pop­u­la­tions in New Mex­ico have a high rate of obe­sity, al­co­holism, smok­ing and chronic con­di­tions, which may be a fac­tor in the state’s lower rank­ing, said Sheri Pruitt, chief be­hav­ioral sci­en­tist for Health­ways Sil­verSneak­ers Fit­ness, a fit­ness pro­gram for older adults.

But state pol­icy also seems to play a role. The higher-rank­ing states are more likely to have poli­cies pro­mot­ing bet­ter health. In Colorado, a “sugar tax” levied on foods with high sugar con­tent has had the ef­fect of dis­suad­ing some peo­ple from pur­chas­ing such foods, Wit­ters said.

Stronger anti-smok­ing leg­is­la­tion also cor­re­lates with higher rank­ings on the well-be­ing in­dex. Colorado and Arizona, for ex­am­ple, ban smok­ing in work­places, res­tau­rants and bars, while West Virginia and Kentucky have no statewide bans on smok­ing.

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